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Articles Posted in Premises Liability

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Every 98 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted. Rape and sexual abuse is a problem that unfortunately is not going away. Sexual assault or rape is one of the worst events one can go through. The emotional trauma and scars can have lasting effects.

After someone is sexually abused, police and law enforcement should immediately be called. Of course, some victims are hesitant to report these issues due to shame, embarrassment, or fear of retaliation. While the police can investigate, and the District Attorney can file criminal charges, the criminal prosecution can do little in terms of fairly compensating the victim or providing proper financial restitution.

Can a Victim of Sexual Assault File a Civil Personal Injury Claim?

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March 18, 2013 was a tragic day for the family of David Priester, Jr. – the 38-year-old Boeing employee fell from an elevated platform at Boeing’s campus and ultimately passed away. In August 2017, his widow got justice from a jury in the form of an $8.8 million verdict against SAR Automation, the company Boeing hired to program the computer that controlled movable sliders on the platform in which Priester fell. Suit was filed against SAR Automation and two other companies. Claims against those companies settled before the trial began.

At trial, it was argued that SAR Automation did not properly program multiple safety features designed to prevent accidents, such as sirens and warning lights. On Priester’s platform, sliders were supposed to be no more than 3 inches from the aircraft at any given time. However, in this particular case, one of the platforms did not extend as it should have, and Priester fell 18 feet through the gap. His eventual death was caused by brain injuries suffered in the fall.

This case highlights many issues in the industrial and construction industries. With workers operating complex machinery, relying on innovative technology, and performing taxing manual labor, they are some of the most dangerous industries worldwide, and those dangers are only exacerbated when an unsafe workplace is provided. While employers must follow state safety regulations and OSHA standards, mistakes do happen. Unfortunately for the injured employee, his or her exclusive remedy against the employer is likely to be workers’ compensation, even if the employer could have been considered negligent in some form or fashion. While workers’ compensation provides valuable medical benefits, wage benefits are awarded at a reduced rate, and non-economic damages like pain and suffering are generally not recoverable. This results in injured employees not being completely made whole after an accident.

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Each year, people across the country attend festivals and state fairs, many of which are held at local amusement parks. Patrons enjoy live music, food, and rides like Ferris wheels and roller coasters, and organizers consistently look for new ways to top the previous year’s event in terms of attractions, promotions, and entertainment. While these events are advertised as safe and family-friendly, troubling numbers continue to arise. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USPC), nearly 31,000 people were injured by amusement park attractions (such as rides) in 2016 alone.

Injuries at fairs and festivals can be caused by a number of reasons. Ride malfunctions are a common source of injury. In August 2017, a ride malfunctioned at the Wilson County (TN) fair, leaving eight people stranded in mid-air. In July 2017, an 18-year old died at the Ohio State Fair due to the Fire Ball ride malfunctioning. In 2016, 14 people were reported to have suffered injuries at the Delta Fair & Music Festival in Memphis due to a problem with the Moonraker ride. While the ride was in use, the ride’s computer detected a problem and began its shutdown procedure. Meanwhile, the ride’s operator tried to stop the ride, releasing the safety restraint prematurely. The result was a halted ride with customers falling and dangling in mid-air. Eight people were taken to the hospital.

Fairs also bring the potential for chaos and fights. For example, parents may be inclined to drop off their kids for the day or night, leaving them unsupervised. In addition, patrons under the influence of alcohol could cause problems with other guests. As such, festivals must provide proper security measures to maintain peace and order. The festival or fair should also create a risk management plan and put the pieces in place to properly execute it.

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In the early hours of July 1, 2017, dozens of people were injured in a Little Rock, Arkansas, nightclub shooting. The shooting occurred in the middle of a concert at Power Ultra Lounge. In total, 28 people suffered injuries, with 25 of those people suffering injuries from gunshot wounds. One witness advised the shooting occurred during the middle of the performance, with more than 50 shots being fired. The Little Rock Police Department began investigating immediately following the shooting, and local police will receive assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well.

Government officials in Arkansas say this shooting is indicative of higher crime levels in Little Rock than in recent years. Between January and July 2017, for example, there have been 29 homicides in Little Rock. However, there were only 15 homicides during the same period of time in 2016. Violent crime in the area is also up more than 20% so far this year.

When a shooting, robbery, or other criminal act takes place at a private place of business, most immediately think of the criminal investigation that will take place and leave it at that. They think of yellow crime scene tape and officers flooding the scene to secure the premises and begin taking witness statements. The police will investigate and the perpetrator will then be charged and prosecuted in criminal court. However, in Arkansas, the analysis does not end there for victims of criminal attacks that were injured during the course and commission of a crime, including innocent bystanders.

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A 37-year-old man who fell while walking down stairs at his apartment complex received a jury verdict of $12 million. The incident occurred in 2012. One morning, he reached the bottom of a staircase when it collapsed, causing him to fall down and injure his ankle. Initially, he thought he just had a sprained ankle so he went to work.

However, as time went on, he started to feel more pain and was eventually diagnosed with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This condition affects the nervous system and causes consistent pain, stiffness, swelling, and muscle spasms, among others. He ended up receiving extensive physical therapy and over 100 nerve block injections to treat his agonizing pain.

He sued the owner and manager of Legacy Corner Apartments, where the accident took place. The lawsuit alleged that the defendants did not properly maintain their premises by allowing the staircase to deteriorate. At trial, the defendants disputed liability and damages. They did not take responsibility for the fall. Further, they contested the severity of the plaintiff’s injuries. Before trial, the defendants offered $1.25 million, which was rejected. At trial, the jury awarded $12 million – $6 million in actual damages and $6 million in punitive damages.

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The Missouri Court of Appeals has upheld a jury award of $3.25 million in favor of a woman shot in a parking lot where she worked. The lawsuit was against Owner-Operator Services, Inc., where the victim was working as a truck insurance agent support specialist. One evening, she was shot by her ex-partner in the company’s parking lot.

She filed a lawsuit against the company alleging negligence in failing to protect her. At trial, she introduced evidence that she was having problems with her ex-partner, such as stalking and sexual assault, and the company’s director of human resources knew about it. The victim told the director that the partner was leaving her harassing voicemails and that she felt fearful about him. The lawsuit alleged that although the company had security cameras and police patrols available, it did not take necessary measures to ensure the victim’s protection. After considering the evidence, the jury awarded her $3.25 million in damages.

Under Missouri law, a business owner generally has no duty to protect business invitees from criminal acts of unknown third parties because they are rarely foreseeable. However, there are a few exceptions. The first is when a person, known to be violent, is on the premises. Another exception is when a person is on the premises and “has conducted himself so as to indicate danger and sufficient time exists to prevent the injury.” The next exception states a business owner has a duty to protect invitees from criminal attacks of others under “special circumstances,” which means when it is foreseeable that certain actions or omissions will cause harm or injury to the invitee.

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Hotels, just like any form of private property, owe a duty to the public to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe manner. This can include taking necessary measures to prevent foreseeable criminal attacks on guests. Hotels are meant to be a safe home away from home. The last thing you expect when staying in a hotel is to be the victim of a horrific crime, including assault or rape.

Sadly, that is precisely what happened to a Southern California woman who was staying at a Holiday Inn in Frazier Park, California. One night, she was sexually assaulted in her hotel room. She later sued the hotel for inadequate security measures, claiming that the hotel was negligent and did not properly provide for her safety. According to the lawsuit, the woman was sexually assaulted after a hotel employee negligently gave her room keys to a sexual predator. According to reports, the woman was staying at the Holiday Inn with her boyfriend, who was not in the room at the time of the crime. Video surveillance shows the attacker, later identified as Jonathan Padilla, speaking with the hotel receptionist at the front desk. Padilla is accused of being heavily intoxicated and under the influence of drugs.

The lawsuit further alleges that Padilla offered the receptionist $100 in exchange for sexual favors but was turned down. Footage shows Padilla leaving the front desk, only to return moments later requesting keys to his room. In reality, the keys Padilla requested were for the victim’s room. Not only did the receptionist fail to verify the occupants of the room, she failed to even ask Padilla his name. Instead, the keys were turned over and the perpetrator was allowed to permanently traumatize an innocent woman. He was later convicted of the crime in criminal court and sentenced to three years in jail.

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At some point in your life, you will inevitably encounter an intoxicated individual while you are out on the town.  Whether you are out running a simple errand to the grocery store or going out to happy hour after work, there is always a chance that you will come across an intoxicated individual that could potentially put you or your loved ones in danger.  With that in mind, the Tennessee Supreme Court, in Cullum v. McCool, made it very clear that if an intoxicated person is on a company’s property and poses a potential risk to the company’s patrons, then that company owes a duty to protect its patrons from foreseeable harm.

In Cullum, an intoxicated individual entered a Walmart store in Red Bank, Tennessee to get her prescriptions filled. Walmart employees, noticing the individual’s drunken state, refused to fill her prescriptions.  Once refused, the individual became belligerent, causing the pharmacy employees to order the individual out of the store.

This individual was a common patron at the Red Bank Walmart, and she had even entered the pharmacy on several occasions in an intoxicated state.  When they ordered her to leave, pharmacy employees knew she was alone and would be operating a motor vehicle to leave the Walmart parking lot.  However, the employees did not call the police, notify security, or take any further actions to ensure the safety of the other people in the store and store parking lot.

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Nobody visits a business or store expecting to be a victim of an assault, robbery, burglary, or rape by a third party criminal. The same goes for the employees who work at those businesses and stores. Unfortunately, sometimes these innocent bystanders are either directly targeted by criminals or indirectly injured while the criminal is in the process of committing a crime.

Inadequate security can cause problems that result in significant consequences, including life-altering injuries or even death. Recently, WREG News Channel 3 in Memphis investigated allegations that certain Memphis gas stations and convenient stores may be providing inadequate security for employees and customers on their premises. Inadequate security is an area of the law that can hold a property owner or manager partially or fully responsible when a person is injured by a criminal on the premises.

The WREG investigation looked into criminal activity occurring at Memphis discount and convenient stores such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar. Many of these stores are located in low income communities or high crime areas. Between 2014 and 2016, these stores accounted for more than 5,000 calls to police for incidents like disturbances, shoplifting, aggravated assault, car theft, and robbery. One representative of the Memphis Police Department described convenient store crime as being on the “forefront” when it comes to business robberies. To prevent crime, stores may choose to hire security guards or install lighting and cameras, which can deter criminals from entering the property in the first place.

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Historically, governments and governmental entities were immune from almost all lawsuits under the theory of sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity originated from old English common law whereby the king could do no wrong. This doctrine eventually carried over into the United States. Sovereign immunity hinged on the idea that for a government to effectively carry out its duties, it must be immune from the financial and legal burdens of litigation.

Without the government’s consent, citizens injured due to government wrongdoing were left without options for recovery. However, many states, including Tennessee, have slowly chipped away at the idea of complete sovereign immunity and have enacted legislation allowing suits against the government under specific circumstances. For over a century, Tennessee recognized the doctrine of sovereign immunity before it was codified as the Tennessee Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA).

The GTLA applies to Tennessee government, from counties to school districts. Through the Act, immunity is granted to governmental entities but with a number of exceptions. Part 2 of the Act provides for the removal of immunity for certain causes of action. Under the GTLA, governments can be sued for actions such as:

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